November 29, 2010
venoco smoker
Venoco Oil Derrick, Beverly Hills High School, Los Angeles, 2001 (source) Teen Smoker (source)


In 1900, a moderately sized oil field was discovered beneath the future city of Beverly Hills, California. By the 1920s Beverly Hills was quickly developing into one of the most exclusive and affluent regions in America. With the price of oil and land rising at an equally voracious pace, oil drilling operations were forced to adapt to an increasingly urban context. By 1927 this context included Beverly Hills High School, inspiration for 90s teen dramas Clueless and Beverly Hills, 90210. The institution sits adjacent to a drilling island run by Venoco Oil, pumping an estimated 400 barrels from beneath the school per day. Royalties from the drilling translate into roughly $300,000 for the school per year, covering a sizable portion of operational expenses. In a famous episode of Saved by the Bell, inspired by the drilling at Beverly Hills High, Bayside High (located a short distance away in the Pacific Palisades) is offered substantial royalties for allowing drilling beneath their premises, provoking an ethical breakdown in Jessie Spano after she contemplates the environmental implications. In an effort to assuage such fears and to improve frayed public relations, in the 90s, at the height of the teen drama craze, Venoco decided to camouflage (auditory and visual) the most prominent piece of infrastructure at the site, a 165 foot tall derrick—out of sight, out of mind. Unveiled in 2001, the floral vinyl skin, depicting the four seasons, transforms the weighty industrial tower into neutral urban background noise.


E. Sean Bailey


Numerous teens in and around Toronto take up smoking in their high school years and find themselves having to appropriate a space in order to light-up while at school. Despite the Smoke-Free Ontario Act which prohibits smoking in and around secondary institutions, outdoor spaces on and off official school property, which are located beyond the sight lines of teachers, are regularly commandeered. Patrols carried out by local Tobacco Enforcement Officers are accompanied by potential fines that may amount to as much as $5000 and may be coupled with suspensions. However, these penalties are often not enough to discourage determined teenagers from laying claim to a space. With names like ‘The Pit’, ‘The Bridge’ or ‘The Corner’, these niches can be found situated in an impression along a hill, on a pedestrian path beneath an underpass or in a nearby nook, respectively. They typify the sorts of enclaves which are commonly utilized for underage smoking: singular banal elements of urbanity which are identified as proper nouns, catapulting them to the status of unique entities. These inventions and adaptations of youth are consistently occupied and utilized in defiance of the risks they impose.


Erandi de Silva





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